Class warfare within the Roman Republic

We learn that right from the beginning of the history of Roman Republic, there had been class warfare. At first the two warring factions were the Patricians and the Plebeians. They both contended for admission to the courts and high office as well as demanding a share in the state lands.  This class struggle between the Patricians and the Plebeians lasted for nearly two centuries.  Eventually though, the Patricians nobility emerged victorious, as it merged with other privileged classes such as the propertied class and slave owning class to expropriate the lands that were erstwhile in the hands of the peasantry.

While the divisions between the Patricians and the Plebeians manifested itself in economic status, the more important distinction is access to state power, which the latter is denied.  As the Roman Empire expanded ever more, newly acquired slaves were integrated into the Plebeian population, thus reinforcing the racial superiority and exclusiveness of the Roman aristocracy.  Further, in spite of deep-rooted differences between the well-to-do Plebeians and the old aristocracy,

“these two social groups, as the chief holders of property, had far more in common than they had with the property-less proletariat. By degrees, the old patrician aristocracy came to understand that the Tribunes could be useful to control the “excesses” of the masses, in whose eyes they enjoyed great authority. The plebs’ leaders succeeded in obtaining concessions from the patricians by leaning on the masses, and the patricians were usually flexible enough to give concessions and reforms in order to preserve their class rule and privileges. Eventually, this led to a process of fusion that created a new oligarchy.” (Woods, 2009)


Alan Woods, Class Warfare in the Roman Republic, published on 4th November 2009, retrieved from <>